What's the most pressing item on your to do list right now? Calling your grandmother? Cleaning your closet? Organizing your classroom? We've all been there, and as teachers, we understand how limited our time is during the day. Throughout my 30-year career, I've come to realize the importance of time- and task-management skills for educators and how small changes can make a big difference.
As you embark on a new school year, I hope the following tips will help you organize your day.
1. Create and Maintain a Weekly System
Utilize digital calendars or tools, such as a paper template, to plan your week. Make sure the system is editable, allowing you to add, remove, or reschedule tasks and meetings as needed throughout the week. Carving out time on Friday afternoons to organize your system for the following week can make Monday mornings much less stressful!
2. Let Your System Become Muscle Memory
Establish consistent routines for each day of the week based on your preferences. For example, you may choose to make copies for the following week on Mondays or Tuesdays, giving you extra time to address any unexpected copier issues. Personally, I find making anchor charts in the mornings calming, and my handwriting is at its best then. By consistently following the same routine every day, your tasks will become automatic. I know—without checking my weekly template—that I make positive phone calls home every Thursday afternoon.
3. Break Down Tasks
Instead of listing larger tasks like "prep for next week" in your plan, break them down into smaller, actionable steps. For example: "Make science photocopies," "gather math manipulatives," or "print lesson plans." This approach provides clarity on what needs to be done and how long it will take. Skilled time and task managers group their activities into categories (e.g., meetings, family and community, lesson prep, material prep) and schedule tasks within each category. If preferred, you can assign specific days of the week to each category.
4. Lean on Your Team
Strengthen your bond with your grade-level or content team while fostering a collective teacher efficacy mindset (refer to tip #1 in this blog for more), by sharing material-preparation tasks. For instance, one teacher can handle math prep while another focuses on reading prep for the following week. Meet with your team to discuss task distribution. You might discover that some colleagues love tasks you find less enjoyable. In elementary settings, it's often more efficient to prepare for one subject across multiple classes rather than multiple subjects within a single class.
5. Organize Your Inbox
Bring structure to your email by creating folders. Once you've read and responded to an email, move it to the appropriate folder. Aim to have an empty or near-empty inbox by the end of each day. This approach allows your inbox to become a to do list rather than an overwhelming collection of unread emails. Allocating dedicated time daily to go through your inbox can also be helpful.
In thinking about these tips for time and task management, remind yourself, it takes about two months to form a habit! Give yourself grace and remember . . . we can do hard things!